Should You Go to Grad School?
Given the problems that new college graduates face, like mounting student loan debt and uncertain job prospects, sometime between your junior year of college and the end of your first year out of school, you’ll likely be faced with a question: Should I go to graduate school? On the one hand, earning a post-baccalaureate degree can help you gain skills and credentials, making you more competitive for the job search (in addition to delaying that search for a couple of years). On the other, graduate school can be costly and stressful, and may involve giving up a fairly comfortable job and relocating to another city or state.
Will It Help You?
While additional qualifications certainly are a bonus in many fields, there aren’t always as many jobs for those with advanced degrees as there are degrees being awarded. In many fields, most notoriously the humanities, it’s entirely possible that you can go through all the work and expense of earning a graduate degree and still wind up making espresso for a living when you’re done. Look at the job prospects for graduates in your field, as well as the requirements for the positions you would like to hold when determining if getting a grad degree will help you. If hiring is especially competitive, you may also want to consider whether you’ll get into a program that will give you a significant advantage in this.
Is It Right for You Right Now?
To a certain extent, there will never be an ideal time to return to school. The very nature of adult life means that you’re likely to encounter some obstacles whenever you decide to make a major life change. Money might be an issue, or the prospect of moving, or perhaps starting grad school and raising kids or getting married just don’t seem like they’d work together in your life. However, some times are certainly better than others.
If you’re completely burned out after your bachelor’s degree, it might be wise to take some time off before grad school. The same advice goes for students who don’t really know what they want to do long-term, but who are afraid they won’t find a job with just a BA. Similarly, if other elements of your life are incredibly stressful, hectic, and uncertain, you may not want to add the demands of graduate school on top of all that. In general, you want to approach a major life change and commitment like a graduate education when you’re relatively stable (emotionally and financially) and ready to devote yourself fully to the workload required. If now is not that time, you may want to ask yourself if you might be better off waiting another year.
Can You Afford It?
Your final consideration in deciding whether graduate school is a wise choice doesn’t come down to fit, but to affordability. At the very least, going from full-time employment to full-time education will involve some reductions in your standard of living. Similarly, your financial aid picture, and possibly the level of parental support available to you, may be drastically different in grad school. Make sure you’re ready to cope with that, as well as any expenses that might be associated with getting started with your degree. You don’t have to spend years saving, but if you can avoid stressing about money while you’re stressing about harder classes and an increased workload, that’s a good idea.
Financial aid, ranging from Stafford loans to graduate student scholarships, is available to prospective graduate students. While generous aid is not guaranteed, and it may not cover all of your expenses, especially the immediate ones, it is out there if you know where to look. Look into fellowship and assistantship programs when evaluating schools, and see if your present employer might be willing to help shoulder some of your expenses, as well. It’s also wise to incorporate a scholarship search into your graduate school application process. You never know what you may find to help you pay for school.